1,200 LB Animal Breaks Lose on Plane Mid-Air

By Victor Winston, updated on November 25, 2023

A dramatic and unusual incident occurred when a horse aboard a Boeing 747 cargo plane broke free from its stall, prompting an emergency return to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

In a startling turn of events, a cargo flight carrying 15 horses was forced to return to JFK Airport after a horse escaped its stall and sustained severe injuries.

The Air Atlanta Icelandic charter flight, initially headed for Liege, Belgium, experienced unexpected turbulence of a different kind - not from the skies, but from within. Roughly 30 minutes after takeoff, at an altitude of 31,000 feet, one of the horses broke free, creating a situation that required immediate attention.

Pilot's Quick Decision to Return

The pilot, confronted with the predicament, made the critical decision to turn the plane around and head back to JFK Airport. This decision was made to ensure the safety of both the animals on board and the crew.

In a recorded conversation with air traffic control, the pilot explained the situation: "We are a cargo plane with a live animal, a horse, on board. The horse managed to escape its stall." This unusual scenario presented a unique challenge for the flight crew.

Considering the well-being of the loose horse and the need to maintain stability, the pilot's choice to return was seen as the best course of action under the circumstances. The plane safely dumped about 20 tons of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean, 10 miles west of Martha's Vineyard, to prepare for a safer landing.

Tragic Outcome of the Escaped Horse

Upon the plane's safe landing at JFK Airport, it became apparent that the horse had suffered severe injuries. The animal, unfortunately, could not be saved and was euthanized. The extent of the injuries indicated a struggle during the flight.

The 14 other horses, part of the same cargo, had to be removed from the plane to reach the injured one. This process was not only time-consuming but also demonstrated the complexities involved in transporting live animals by air.

After the incident, the remaining horses were cared for and subsequently reloaded for their journey to Belgium the following day, a necessary but sad continuation of their journey.

Challenges in Animal Air Transport

The incident highlights the challenges and risks of transporting live animals by air. Specialized cargo planes are typically equipped to handle such transport, but unforeseen circumstances like this demonstrate the potential hazards.

According to a crew member, the horse "jumped and managed to get its two front legs over the [front] barrier" of its stall, then got stuck. This event underscores the unpredictability and potential dangers inherent in transporting animals, especially large ones like horses.

Transporting live animals by air requires meticulous planning and the highest standards of animal welfare. Incidents like this prompt a reevaluation of current practices and safety measures to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Response and Support from Authorities

In response to the emergency, JFK Airport and relevant authorities were quick to provide support. In communication with air traffic control, the pilot highlighted the need for a veterinarian upon landing:

"I do believe we need a vet — veterinarian, I guess you call it, for the horse upon landing. Is that something you can speak to New York about?"

The quick response of the airport authorities and the readiness to provide medical attention demonstrate the efficiency and preparedness in handling such unique emergencies.

"On the ground, negative. On the ramp, yes, we have a horse in problem," was the brief response from the ground, indicating immediate attention to the situation as soon as the aircraft landed.

Implications for Future Flights

The incident has raised questions about the safety measures in place for the transport of live animals. While such occurrences are rare, they bring to light the need for stringent safety protocols.

The airline, Air Atlanta Icelandic, and the aviation industry, in general, may need to reassess and possibly enhance their procedures and equipment for animal transport to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Despite the tragic outcome for the injured horse, the successful return of the aircraft and the safe transport of the remaining horses the next day were a testament to the professionalism and quick thinking of the flight crew.

In Conclusion

This incident serves as a reminder of the complexities and challenges involved in the air transportation of animals. It underscores the need for constant vigilance, stringent safety measures, and emergency preparedness.

  • A Boeing 747 carrying horses had to return to JFK Airport after a horse got loose.
  • The plane dumped fuel over the Atlantic, and one horse was euthanized due to severe injuries.
  • The incident highlights challenges in the air transport of live animals and may lead to safety reassessments.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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